Kamir Ainouz’s directorial debut Honey Cigar is a sensual, captivating coming-of-age drama set in France and Algeria in 1993. It focuses on a young woman’s experience of discovering her own body while dealing with abusive men, family pressures, and political issues during the Algerian Civil War.
Selma, played by Zoé Adjani, is 17 years old and lives in France with her Algerian family. She was born and raised in Paris but feels connected to her Algerian heritage and longs for the moment to be reunited with her home country.
While at school, her desire and curiosity take over and Selma starts to explore her own body. She meets classmate Julien and is immediately attracted to him, although his first remarks to her are rather sexist. Nevertheless, they become friends, eventually sleep with each other, but end their story before it even properly begins.
The young woman’s teenage life consists of drinking, smoking, and coming home late which results in fights with her parents. She actively opposes the idea of an arranged marriage but finds herself at dinners with sons of family friends who, according to her parents, could potentially become Selma’s future husbands.
Luka, a banker and one of her ‘potential’ husbands, invites Selma to a job interview and a dinner and this ends with him cruelly raping her in his hotel room. This shocking plotline is unfortunately not developed further and so we can only imagine how Selma feels since she is not able to talk to anyone about this terrible moment. Ultimately, it seems she has to push her trauma aside since she accepted the internship and the film ends on the day before she is supposed to start working.
With the camera close to Selma at all times, one can identify with the young woman and feel her pain. Moreover, the screenplay depicts her wish to escape and the shots only widen when she is back in Algeria for a holiday with her family.
Finally, the film portrays an unfortunately all too common and relatable experience of being a young woman. It criticises the deeply misogynistic concept of ‘deflowering’ a woman, but on the other hand, shows how Selma’s sexual experiences with men are never on her terms.
The relatively open ending of the film and the fact that we don’t know if Selma will ever speak up about her trauma made me feel unsatisfied. Nevertheless, I could have continued to watch the film because it felt so raw and relatable, almost as if I was watching my own or one of my friend’s experiences.
Touching upon topics such as growing up as a woman and discovering one’s pleasure in a patriarchal society, connecting with one’s heritage and the political context in Algeria in 1993 – Honey Cigar is a must-watch since it offers so much to reflect about.
Honey Cigars is exclusively showing at the ICA in London. Get your tickets via https://www.ica.art/films/ica-exclusive-honey-cigar.
Reviewed by Giulia Ciccolella – Giulia is interning with Abundant Art during October and supports the organisation writing reviews and helping with marketing and PR. Giulia is German-Italian and graduated with a BA in Media & Communications with first-class honours from Goldsmiths, University of London. She has been living in the UK for over three years and is excited to explore London’s art scene further while learning more about the work of Abundant Art.